I know, I know…this review is nearly a month after Jamaica Carnival and obviously late. Life happened, you know? But I did not forget!
I have had plenty of time to cool down and reflect on another memorable carnival experience. I returned to Jamaica Carnival in 2019 and played mas with a different band this time, Xodus Carnival. I had a great time; below is a thorough review of my experience.
PS. You can read my review of my experience with Xaymaca International here.
PPS. Don’t forget to check out submitted reviews by other readers detailing their experiences!
Band Launch: Xodus Carnival introduced their 2019 theme “Cosmopolitan - The World in One Band” in September and launched their costumes in late November. In a dazzling and high-end showcase, the team of designers gave us a barrage of feathers and unique backpacks, with most costumes tying in very well to the theme of the city/country they represented.
To be honest, the biggest stressor was choosing a band in the first place. Once I had settled on Xodus (mostly due to price and group majority opinions), the choice between Asella and Kingston ended up being a no-brainer. I went for the costume I felt was more unique. Plus, I had heard only amazing things about the Barbados Vida team.
Registration: Very easy. I created an account and paid a $150 deposit. It took 15 minutes. My section sold out within 2-3 weeks of launch. I will say though that these online fees have started to bother me more and more.
Communication: Communication from Xodus was decent, but a little inconsistent. Bottom line: they responded to queries, but the amount of time it took varied, depending on mode of communication. It was easiest getting information through friends who knew band leaders personally. Instagram direct messages were answered promptly, but emails took a little longer (the longest wait I had was 2 weeks). Face time at the band house in Kingston was also helpful if you had the opportunity.
Communication with Barbados Vida was spectacular. Not only did they fully engage with their masqueraders on social media and get us excited, they responded quickly and professionally, provided demonstrations and “how-tos” and were flexible in regards to changes (in the first couple weeks of registration). Stellar customer service.
Costume Pickup: This was a breeze. I thought last year was quick; well, this year was quicker. It would have been even shorter if I had come fully prepared with my printed receipt. The entire process took 20 minutes at most. Upon exit after getting my costume, Xodus offered free cocktails. We lingered in the lobby area for probably an extra 45 minutes drinking and talking and ducking feathers.
The goodie bag was all right. I think I need to temper my goodie bag expectations haha. Though I was looking forward to the Xodus duffel bag they gave to masqueraders in the past, the team decided to switch it up this year and provided backpacks instead. I loved it.
Costume: Stunning. It was far beautiful in person. The blue bodywear was richer than I thought and the backpack was h u g e. The backpack is a work of art and was assembled as a three-piece contraption. Their team willingly demonstrated how to collapse and put it back together again - very necessary for transportation back to my place, because it could not fit in the car. I’m so glad I went with this one.
Expectation vs Reality
THE ROAD EXPERIENCE
To rate my road experience: 9/10
Let me say straight off the bat, the reason it is not a 10/10 is because of two things: lax security and shitty Johnnie Walker Red.
Lunch Spot: We arrived on the road pretty late this year - in time for lunch at around 12:30pm. I missed not being able to jump in the morning but everything started off late that day. (Remember, I went to four parties the day before so I was tired AF). The stress of the morning rush and getting ready, traffic in Kingston and the HEAT had me in a sour mood when I arrived, but I loosened up through the day.
I thought the lunch spot was too small for the number of masqueraders - it felt pretty cramped with all the bodies and backpacks swinging into people’s faces. However, it was well organized with the food stations off to the left side (that I saw) and most of the masquerader tents off to the right, with lots of tables and chairs sprinkled in between as you walked around. I noticed a makeup station, but the line was too long for me to check it out.
The highlight of the entire lunch experience was the backpack check-in stations. CRITICAL. My backpack was lovely and everything and looked beautiful in all my pictures, but it really was not practical. I took advantage of the check-in stations (which were organized and a wonderful safeguard) and was able to maneuver through the lunch stop and eat my lunch in peace.
The food was really good. Typically at lunch stops, the food is passable and never enough; I usually want a second box of food. But not this time. I got the curry goat and it was a full lunch. I could not finish it all but I tried my best. Suffice to say, I was very satisfied.
Getting drinks at lunch was a struggle. I only saw two bars, which is obviously not enough for the several hundred (or thousands) of people there. I had to shove my way to the front of the bar and put on my most vex tone in order to get attention. Not only did they not have enough bars, they did not have enough attendants at the bars. The bar I went to had only two at some point, and they increased it to 3 eventually.
This is also where Xodus lost a half point for me. I scanned their table for what drinks were available and I did not see a single bottle of premium liquor - I saw Appleton Special and Johnnie Walker Red and was immediately annoyed. No Hennessy, no Patron, no Bailey’s. What is this?!
Music: With my Sangster’s in hand, I was ready to get back on the road. I was determined to make this an epic day. I dashed out of there and headed straight to my car to deposit these wings - I could not deal. They were annoying to maneuver through the “biggest band in Jamaica”. Xodus really is the biggest band with too many damn frontline masqueraders, okay!
I give the music an A+. There was a mix of current and old-ish soca music, as well as a good amount of dancehall, and a sprinkle of afrobeats. Some trucks were better than others - I was at truck 1 and 5 for the most part. A point to note: all you “soca music only” people can sit this one out and chill out to be honest. The crowd was MOST alive when dancehall played. Each and every time Koffee, Ding Dong or Kartel was played, it was a scene. This is what makes Jamaica Carnival so special to me, and I am glad that Xodus fully embraces it, instead of shying away from it.
Crowd: The crowd was vast, the energy was electric. There must have been about 3000 masqueraders but still pockets of space to wild out. Those who had been on the road since morning were lit lit, while the rest of us were on course to catch up. I fed off of the energy of the hype people - they were scaling walls, jumping on shoulders, gyrating on the trucks, getting on the ground…just so much crazy energy. I loved it. The music was sweet, I had settled into my drink of choice for the day (rum & ginger ale) and without the backpack, I was free, dodging and weaving without a care in the world. The vibe was amazing; no stushness. I don’t know how to describe it - the feeling of elation when playing mas with like-minded people is honestly one of the best feelings in the world. There is no judgement, no disrespect; just fun times and teefing wines.
Even as the sun set, the crowd was still in full force. However, it is especially at that time that Xodus needed to have beefed up security. I felt less vulnerable than I did last year, but I still felt like stormers (and bikers) were allowed free reign through the band, and when it got dark, it felt unsafe.
Dinner: We had a few of dinner options when we returned to the rest stop. KFC was by far the most popular option and it was a fierce battle to get a meal box. The lines were not organized and the crowd was rowdy; many masqueraders were disgruntled about friends jumping the queue and the Xodus staff at those stations were pretty rude. Luckily, after all was said and done, I was successful.
There was supposed to be an after-party, or so I thought. But there seemed to be no signs of life at the rest stop so we packed up and headed back home. One day…ONE DAY, I will make it to Big Wall.
Watch this short video recap of my time in Xodus, thanks to Franklin Sims Media! Just about sums it up! I cherish these memories.
While my experience with Xodus was fantastic, I heard several disturbing things in the aftermath. The most troubling was that a few hundred people did not receive costumes at all!?! WHAAAAAAT? How does that happen? Allegedly, costumes did not arrive or did not get processed through customs on time, Therefore, many unlucky masqueraders were given the bad news at pickup, with Xodus offering refunds. This is completely ridiculous, and if true, a public apology is owed to them and should have been given by now. There is really no excuse for this sort of mismanagement.
Did you play with Xodus Carnival? How was your experience in Jamaica this year? Tell me below! I’d love to hear from you.
Until the next carnival,